There’s nothing like it in sports. The defense collapses around the ball, the court opens up, a pass or two puts the perimeter players on the run and someone is ultimately left open in the corner or at the top of the three point arc. Then – oblivious to the laws of motion, gravity and planetary physics – you wait until the centripetal force in consideration is nestled in the nylon and blows the roof of the garden. I went to decidedly less low key venue on Saturday – and even without Marv Albert extolling each made shot in the signature “Yesss” that has made him famous – the science involved was no less sweeter. My niece, Samantha Gisonni, plays AAU Basketball and had a tournament at Pace this weekend.
Now 16, I endured a few of those early modified games where the basketball seemed more like the only cookie at the mercy of 10 little girls at a birthday party. But since Samantha already was showing signs of knowing how to ball handle her way out of that type of collapse, it was clear she’d emerge from the chaos and I’d have something to watch at the next level.
Things did become more interesting in subsequent years, and she went on to make JV as a sophomore at John Jay High School. Last year, I heard she made a buzzer beating game winning shot on her travel team, and this season made varsity as a junior.
A few months ago, I got the chance to catch one of her games at my old high school. Excited, I thought she’d be lighting it up at the point. Unfortunately, my sister informed me Samantha probably wouldn’t even make it off the bench and that turned out to be the case. But AAU basketball would mean some meaningful minutes in the spring.
The weather now warm, I still had to chill while waiting for the Triple Threat starters to sit for a breather. Tempering my anticipation, number “0” entered the game, brought the ball up and took a back seat in the back court before dishing off.
Falling back, she was focused on defense and re-deferred to an offense that seemed established. That is until the first point guard off the bench came open on a jumper.
Poised and unfazed, Samantha’s rotation rose innocently, if not majestically, and as the apex approached, I resigned myself to the fact that roof at Pace was probably safe. Meaning, my sister told me Samantha’s game was really defense so I readied my camera and my hopes from the other end of the gym. Frozen in eternity, I waited… and so will you.
In between games, I sat with Samantha and did what all good uncles do when they are lucky enough to be the odd man out in the mother, father, daughter dynamic. I caused trouble. It went like this :
Uncle Richie : You making nice with your sister
Samantha : No one makes nice with Amanda
Uncle Richie : You better if you want her to let you visit Penn next year
Samantha : She’ll let me visit, and I’m going to wear all her clothes when she’s gone.
Mom : No you won’t, her room is such a mess that I’m going to seal it when she leaves. (Samantha lets out a giggle)
Mom : Your room ain’t much better.
Samantha : (directing a stare at me) Maybe, it’s in the genes.
Uncle Richie : Why you looking at me?
Wait a minute, that didn’t go as expected. Or did it? Here’s a little history.
A few years ago, I’m playing with my old man softball team and ball after ball is landing way out of reach of our beleaguered outfield. I’m kicking the dirt and swearing and suddenly I hear a high pitched chirping, “Hey first baseman, wake up, get your head in the game.”
Annoyed, I’m like who the hell is that. I turn around and it’s Samantha giving me the business. Waiting to see her sister’s game at an aligning field, she continued after my seventh inning lead off triple resulted in the winning run. “Uncle Richie, you should have had a homer.”
It was there too at a young age when she conspired with her sister to lock me out of the house while babysitting. The first and last time I was tasked with overseeing my nieces, I guess that worked out for the better.
But my favorite all time was off an impromptu visit with my sister, where the mess found was something I thought she could identify with. I received no such consideration. “This place looks like a crime scene investigation,” she deadpanned.
Could a trouble making Uncle feel any prouder?
Well, the trajectory in question still awaits us, but I had originally feared what being an uncle would be like when the cute little girls became teenagers. I admit as a 30 year old when her sister Amanda
was born I stressed a bit over what it would be like when they hit the prime of their lives, while my life was long left in the dust. Yes, I was afraid I’d be jealous.
Given that, Samantha now has a boyfriend who is the 6’3″ star pitcher of the baseball team and since there was nothing remotely comparable in a cheerleading uniform in my distant past or even relatable present, my foresight seemed correct. As it turns out, I still got some kick left – even though both my nieces doubt that, which is all part of the joy today.
“They’re more fun now than when they were younger,” I told my sister. But fights overs cars, looming college debts and the teenage melodramas endured may make that hard to accept for parents.
On the other hand, such is being an uncle and seeing the bits and pieces of you in them encompassed a pride on this day that was found at the end of a basketball rainbow in a single word.
The roof removed in my estimation, Samantha knocked down two more jumpers, had two steals and ran the floor just fine.